Johannesburg - Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe warned on Thursday that about a million matriculants could lose their placements in universities and colleges if the higher education institutions didn’t complete their academic year.
“If the academic year is lost and the universities and colleges do not reach finality this year, almost a million matriculants will not be admitted into higher education,” he said in Pretoria on Thursday.
The protests have continued unabated despite warnings of dire consequences for the universities, students, matriculants and ultimately the economy.
On Thursday Wits University students accused the police of brutality after a #FeesMustFall movement leader, Shaeera Kalla, was shot multiple times with rubber bullets. Several others were also injured as students marched on campus.
The Independent Police Investigative Directorate said on Thursday night that it would investigate the shooting of Kalla.
Police spokesperson Sally de Beer said Gauteng commissioner Lieutenant-General Deliwe de Lange had visited Kalla in hospital and confirmed the injuries sustained after she was shot 13 times with rubber bullets.
As Wits continues to grapple with the grim prospect of suspending the academic programme, the University of Cape Town's faculty of health sciences announced on Thursday that it had suspended all undergraduate classes for the remainder of the year because of the disruptions over the past three days.
On Wednesday, the University of the Western Cape announced that it had suspended all face-to-face classes until further notice, while the fate of several other universities remained uncertain.
Radebe said: “The ripple effect is such that all students from first year to final year would be affected and ultimately the economy, as no new skilled graduates would enter the job market.
“Consequently, those who would have graduated as medical doctors, engineers, accountants, teachers and various other professions will no longer be in a position to enter the economy.”
He reiterated the government’s call that students’ concerns be dealt with through dialogue while the academic programme continued.
At Wits, the protests continued despite a visit to campus on Wednesday by prominent South Africans, among them founding Cosatu leader Jay Naidoo and former public protector Thuli Madonsela.
Madonsela said she supported the call for free tertiary education, but in a peaceful way.
Kalla, who is a former Student Representative Council leader, was shot even though she held her hands up, students said.
The Wits SRC said students had been singing peacefully when police fired at them with rubber bullets. They also used tear gas.
First-year student Yamkela Gola said: “Shaeera approached the police with her hands raised in order to negotiate for the students to hold a meeting. The police did not want to engage her. They were very aggressive and released a stun grenade.”
University spokesperson Shirona Patel said: “Reports from campus security were that a student leader was shot nine times by police. Wits security and campus control don’t have guns or rubber bullets.”
She added that several students were treated at the campus health and wellness centre, and one, who had a dislocated leg, was taken to hospital.
Patel said protesting students had disrupted a lecture and tore up test papers on the west campus. Police reacted by dispersing them.
Earlier, the university said police were investigating arson after a section of a library was set alight on Wednesday night.
Also on Thursday, students calmly marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to demand free education.
They became agitated when a representative from the Presidency came out to receive their memorandum. They demanded to see President Jacob Zuma and started shaking the fence that separated them, chanting “Who are you?”
Students refused to hand over the memorandum, and officers had to escort Presidency officials away.
Police used stun grenades and water cannons to disperse the students from the Union Buildings grounds.
In their memorandum, students said they demanded “free, quality, decommodified and decolonised (education) now”.